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Hallahan, Walter Rewi (1889–1918)

by Anthony Ellis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Walter Rewi Hallahan (1889?-1918), soldier and metallurgist, was born probably on 2 August 1889 at Westport, New Zealand, son of James Patrick Hallahan and his wife Janet. He studied metallurgy at Westport and, after his family moved to Western Australia, attended the Kalgoorlie School of Mines. He began work on the assay staff of various local gold-mines and later became an amalgamator. In 1909 he joined the 84th Infantry (Goldfields) Regiment, trained as a machine-gunner and in July 1914 was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Hallahan enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 August 1914 and was posted to the 11th Battalion; by 9 September he had been promoted sergeant because of his militia experience. In November he embarked for Egypt and trained with his machine-gun section before sailing for Gallipoli. He showed great courage and dash during the Anzac landing on 25 April 1915 as he led his section to the top of Shrapnel Gully to mount their guns. That evening the Turks attacked their position but under Hallahan's leadership his men drove them back. During this engagement he received a flesh wound in the neck; for forty-eight hours after the landing he had 'kept his machine gun in action until the firing line was established, although subjected to heavy shrapnel and rifle fire'. Afterwards he was hospitalized and resumed duty on 9 May.

The Turks launched a massive attack along the Australian front ten days later and Hallahan stood on the parapet to make the most effective use of his machine-gun—he is said to have prayed aloud that it would not jam. He remained there even when the enemy were only fifty yards (46 m) away, and he inflicted heavy losses and helped to bring 'a determined attack to a standstill'. On 1 August he was noted for gallantry at Leane's Trench when he led his detachment across open ground under heavy rifle-fire; soon after occupying the captured trench he was wounded. He was commissioned second lieutenant on 4 August and remained at Gallipoli until 16 November when his battalion was sent to Lemnos for rest and was later shipped to Egypt. For distinguished service at Gallipoli, especially for gallantry at the landing and on 19 May and 1 August, he received the Military Medal (although the award was not gazetted until October 1916) and was mentioned in dispatches.

In April 1916 the 11th Battalion reached France and Hallahan was promoted lieutenant on 8 May; his unit went into the line at Fleurbaix twelve days later, then moved to Pozières on the Somme on 19 July. In the battle for Pozières, when almost half the battalion became casualties, Hallahan took temporary command of his company. On 19-20 August the 11th became the carrying battalion for the 3rd Brigade at Mouquet Farm; after carrying all day on the 20th Hallahan, with another officer, was chosen to lead an attack aimed at establishing the brigade's flank. The daylight attack, which they launched under cover of an Australian artillery barrage, gained ground. Exploding shells buried Hallahan twice but even after the ordeal of being dug out he refused to leave the line. For 'daring and capable leadership' at Pozières and Mouquet Farm he was awarded the Military Cross. He fought at Hill 60 and Flers later in 1916 and on 26 December was promoted captain.

The 11th Battalion saw action at Tailloy, Lagnicourt, Bullecourt and Ypres between February and September 1917, and Hallahan commanded 'D' Company until 30 September when he was posted to the A.I.F. 2nd and 3rd Training Battalions in England. He rejoined his unit in May 1918 for the assault on Mont de Merris where he was wounded but remained on duty and then moved to Cérisy. In August he received orders to take up transport duty to Australia but after reaching England he was recalled to his battalion on 15 September, the day before his intended marriage to a nurse. He returned to the 3rd Brigade front opposite Villeret and prepared for the battalion's final operation of the war—the attack on the Hindenburg outpost-line. On 18 September the battalion moved forward rapidly in three waves, closely following the barrage. Hallahan commanded the third wave, whose task was to mop up; his company was caught by the German counter-barrage and he was killed instantly. He was buried in Tincourt cemetery. Charles Bean wrote that he was 'a beloved officer … a tall, thin, gentle looking chap with a refined face, a gallant man with a quiet manner'. Three of his brothers, two of whom were killed in action in 1916, served with the A.I.F.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • W. C. Belford, Legs-Eleven: The 11th Battalion A.I.F. (Perth, 1940)
  • London Gazette, 24 Mar, 27 Oct, 29 Dec 1916
  • Reveille (Sydney), Jan 1936
  • Western Argus, 1 Oct 1918.

Citation details

Anthony Ellis, 'Hallahan, Walter Rewi (1889–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hallahan-walter-rewi-6531/text11219, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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